An investigation by the Baltimore Sheriff's Department is focusing on five of its deputies who have been accused of beating and using electric stun guns on a man they mistook for a bank robber in Lexington Market.
Rolando Sanchez, 26, alleges in a complaint filed with the Sheriff's Department that he was taking a lunch break at the market Sept. 18 when deputies attacked and humiliated him, then left him injured on the ground without calling an ambulance.
Five deputies have been suspended with pay from their regular duties while the department's two internal affairs deputies look into how Sanchez, a construction worker who speaks little English, ended up in Maryland General Hospital.
The case of mistaken identity occurred after a sheriff's deputy, who had been cashing a check in an Allfirst Bank branch on St. Paul Street, was alerted to a robbery in the bank. The deputy ran after the robber and, after calling for backup on her radio, gave chase toward Lexington Market.
At least five deputies converged in the market and encountered Sanchez, according to an account by the sheriff's office. Details are sketchy as to what happened next.
Sanchez, a native of El Salvador who lives in Wheaton, had been repairing the market's roof and had come down to buy lunch. He said he was accosted while standing near a Japanese food stand and was shot with a stun gun four times in his neck and twice in his upper back, according to his lawyer, J. Stephen Simms.
The deputies handcuffed him and asked him for identification. Simms said it is not apparent why the deputies allegedly began beating Sanchez. They left once they realized he was not the man they were looking for, Simms said.
"Rolando would not have been left where he was if he were not a relatively small brown man who does not speak English," Simms said. "If he were white or African-American and not dressed as a construction worker, this would not have happened."
Maj. Toby Goodwin, chief of operations for the sheriff's office, refused to comment yesterday.
"There is an active investigation," Goodwin said. "Due to the delicacy of the situation, I will not put a time frame on the investigation."
A spokeswoman for the Baltimore state's attorney's office said city prosecutors would consider bringing charges if the sheriff's internal investigation indicates there was wrongdoing.
Goodwin said sheriff's deputies are trained to assist the injured. "For any law enforcement officer, the first priority is to aid the injured in any situation," Goodwin said. "That's textbook, standard academy training."
While sheriff's deputies have police powers, their primary duties include guarding the courthouses, transporting prisoners and executing warrants.
The incident has sparked indignation among Hispanic community leaders, who called a news conference for today in front of Courthouse East on Calvert Street.
"We are outraged, not so much that he was beat up, but that they left him on the floor like a dog," said Baltimore Hispanic activist Angelo Solera. "Thugs do that. They beat you up and they leave you in the middle of Lexington Market."
Simms said when Sanchez saw the deputies coming at him, he thought they were chasing someone and had tried to step out of their way.
The deputies had been alerted that the Allfirst bank robber was an African-American man wearing blue jeans and a dark T-shirt. Sanchez is a fair-skinned Hispanic man who was wearing shorts, work boots and an orange T-shirt.
Sanchez's lawyer said he would seek monetary compensation, but is hoping to keep the situation out of the courts. Simms said he and his client, both evangelical Christians, want to follow a "biblical model" that would encourage "reconciliation with other Christians."
"We want to seek reconciliation first, which means meeting, making apologies and talking about what happened," Simms said. "[In addition to] that, under the biblical model, is required restitution."
Sanchez moved to Houston with his mother eight years ago from San Miguel, El Salvador. He relocated to the Baltimore area five years ago to be near his girlfriend.